chapbook draft

I have mentioned before that I am putting together a chapbook for the QuillsEdge Press contest for women poets over fifty.

At least I have the woman over fifty part nailed…

When the contest information was sent to me by one of the thoughtful male members of Grapevine Group, I already had a small group of poems written that related to this year’s theme, “In Transition.” Over the last couple of months, I have been writing and revising more poems to fill in gaps and to have enough poems to meet the page count requirement.

I have mentioned several times that I have been working assiduously on one poem in particular. After workshopping it with three different groups of poets, trying it out at a couple of readings, and revising again at the recommendation of a trusted poet-friend, I have now decided to use it as the final poem of the chapbook. Poets are advised to end with a strong poem and I am hoping that this at-least-for-now final version will fill the bill.

I had been playing with the order of the poems as I continued to add new ones and today, with all the poems finally available, I did another round of changes. When I finished the re-shuffle on the computer, I printed out a copy so that I can hold it in my hands and read it through as if it were a real publication.

I am trying to restrain myself from begging for readers to give me more advice. Though the deadline isn’t until January first, I really would like to submit next week. December is such a busy month that I would like to have it sent off and out of my head so I can move on to the rest of my to-do list. I also realize that all my poet-friends are similarly busy this time of year and don’t want to bug them more than I already have.

I am also trying to see this as a self-trust exercise. Given my lack of formal training, it’s easy for me to doubt my technical ability as a poet. People write books about how to order poems – and I haven’t read any of them, even though I do own one of them.

I will read it eventually…

For now, my plan is to read the chapbook aloud several times over several days, tweak anything that bothers me, and send it off through Submittable sometime next week.

And then wait a few months for news…

 

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poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

poetic convergence

On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:

Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House 
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.

The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.

The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)

After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.

Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.

Videopoem from the Boiler House!

I am thrilled to share with you a new videopoem from the Boiler House Poets!

During our recent reunion residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA, we collaborated on a poem about our beloved Boiler House and each recorded her own lines.

Marilyn McCabe, one of our stalwart Boiler House Poets who has experience with videopoems, graciously handled all the photography and editing to produce the amazing final product.

Enjoy!

Last MASS MoCA moments

I posted my final MASS MoCA reunion poetry residency piece right before the Boiler House Poets’ last lunch together, but wanted to add a postscript.

The marvelous Marilyn McCabe had already completed a first draft of our Boiler House videopoem and gave us a viewing before we departed.

It looks fantastic and I am anxious to share it with you all, which I will do as soon as Marilyn puts the finishing touches on it and releases it to the public.

Stay tuned!

wrapping up at MASS MoCA

Yesterday was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA, such a full day that there was no time to blog before collapsing into bed. I came into the studio early, picking up a steamed milk and an almond biscotti from Tunnel City Coffee on the way.

Thus fortified, I embarked on a morning of writing and visiting places that I could photograph or take notes on for future poems. I re-visited the North Adams Public Library and spoke with a couple of the librarians who helpfully supplied some of the historical information about the building. I walked into the newly spiffed up Colgrove Park with Drury Academy/High/Conte Middle/now Colgrove Elementary School perched on the hillside above. Workers were on site at the former Saint Francis Church, getting ready to removing the rubble that was left behind after the demolition. It is so strange to look at the North Adams skyline without that steeple among the rest.

After the museum opened, I went back to some exhibits that had particularly struck me and made some notes. One was a bit tricky because the room was almost totally dark. I discovered that there is an installation showing a short film set in the upper reaches of our beloved Boiler House. I visited the Boiler House and took (yet more) photographs, especially of the upper levels that are more difficult to reach for people without sturdy shoes and a certain comfort level with industrial settings and heights.

After lunch in the cafe, we reconvened back at the Studios for some workshopping of poems and for a special project. During our first residency, which was the inaugural collaboration between the Studios at MASS MoCA and Tupelo Press, we produced this video of us reading poems in the Boiler House.  The indefatigable Ann Dernier collected poems from an exercise that we did with Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo and made them into an anthology called Verse Osmosis.

For this reunion residency, we decided to create a collaborative videopoem about the Boiler House. Each poet brought some lines, in some cases written specifically for the videopoem and in others excerpted from a larger Boiler House poem, to the group. We made a few small edits and considered several options for ordering our lines before deciding on one.

Next, we went to Marilyn McCabe’s studio to use her microphone and computer to record the audio. Marilyn has produced gorgeous videopoems, so she offered to do the necessary recording and editing. We lined up in our agreed-upon order and recorded the reading, so that Marilyn could overlay it with audio she previously recorded in the Boiler House, which is a sound installation in addition to being a visual marvel. Later, she will use photographs of the Boiler House to complete the videopoem.

On a lark, we decided to take our poem over to the Boiler House to read it there; Marilyn brought her mike and laptop to record, although we assumed there would be too much noise for our words to be heard easily. To our amazement, when we listened to the playback, the balance was very good, so Marilyn may use that recording in the final product. You can be sure that as soon as it is ready, I will post it here at Top of JC’s Mind!

After a short break, which I confess I used to shop in the museum gift store, we reconvened for a bit more workshopping before returning to our apartments to get ready for dinner. We had made a reservation for Grazie, which is on the first floor of the building where we are staying and is where we had our opening night dinner, and had a fabulous time with great food and even greater conversation.

We re-convened in the apartment living room for more time together. First, we did book signing. Copies of Verse Osmosis were passed around for multiple signatures. We were also blessed to have several books by members of the group currently out in print: several books by Kyle Laws, Marilyn McCabe’s Glass Factory, and Ann Dernier’s In the Fury. Then, we snuck in a bit more workshopping and insisted on hearing people read just a few more poems before we were all too tired to continue.

This morning, we all faced the realization that we only had a few hours left before we would have to leave. Six days seems so short! Although we all accomplished a great deal, there is so much more we have to say. The challenge is to keep the creative energy we feel here alive, without the obvious advantages of having a writing studio, an art museum, other poets available for feedback and support, and at least partial respite from household, family, and work obligations.

Yes, it is going to be a challenge.

My hope is to continue to work on my manuscript so that I can send it out to readers in the coming months and have it ready to submit to publishers or contests by the middle of 2017.

You all know how my plans often go, though…

Wish me luck and stay tuned!

Fridays are Magical: First Grade Poetry Workshops

This evening, in the adult version of Binghamton Poetry Project, I wrote my first tanka. Here, I am sharing the precious post about some of the first grade poets who are loving, learning, and creating with the BPP.

by: Heather Dorn

Fridays have been magical since I stopped working weekends. Something about those last few hours drowning in research before stepping off the cliff to endless weekend possibilities, or a good afternoon coffee, makes me giddy. But when I’m teaching 1st graders, Fridays become even more magical.

First graders are poets who haven’t unlearned how to be poets.

For the past month, instructors from the Binghamton Poetry Project have been running first grade poetry workshops at Charles F. Johnson Elementary and Johnson City Primary. Instructors Heather Humphrey, Tim Lavis, Assistant Director Clara Barnhart, and myself, Director Heather Dorn, visited the schools on Fridays to offer lessons about the sounds, shapes, and ideas that poems can have. Though we don’t stress terminology, we aimed to teach rhyme, alliteration, simile and concrete poems, while fostering a positive attitude toward poetry. The third year we have had…

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